Father sues N.H. child protection agency over toddler’s death

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The father of a toddler who was killed by her mother in 2015 filed a lawsuit Monday accusing New Hampshire’s child protection agency of negligence and wrongful death.

Sadence “Sadee” Willott was 21 months old when she died of head injuries in September 2015. Her mother, Kaitlin Paquette, told police she was trying to get her daughter to sit down in a cast-iron bathtub when she forcefully pushed her down, causing Willott to hit her head. Paquette pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and is serving a 21- to 42-year prison sentence.

The toddler’s father, Christopher Willott, filed a lawsuit Monday against the Division of Children, Youth and Families, detailing the nine separate abuse and neglect investigations it had opened during the girl’s lifetime, starting when she was four days old and tested positive for marijuana. The division later received reports of the baby being left in dirty diapers and the parents using drugs.

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When eight-month-old Sadee was hospitalized with severe bruising on her face and body and a soft spot on her skull, her mother said a fan fell off a bureau onto the baby and another child kicked her. When a Comcast worker who had been in the home reported that 1-year-old Sadee had a black eye, Paquette said she fell over a toy on her birthday. When Sadee was treated for a broken leg a month later, Paquette said another child tripped over her. When a case worker suggested lack of supervision might explain the injuries, Paquette disagreed and refused help, the lawsuit states.

“DCYF failed to fully and vigorously follow-up on reports expressing serious concerns about Sadee’s safety and wellbeing while in the care of her mother, preferring instead to accept at face value the excuses and explanations provided by her mother for the many hospital visits and injuries,” wrote Willott’s attorney, Rus Rilee.

An autopsy found that in addition to the head injuries that killed her, the girl had six other healed or partially healed broken bones.

A spokesman for the division didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The agency has been under scrutiny since Willott’s death and the 2014 death of another toddler under its supervision. Those cases spurred an independent review of the agency, which concluded that it often fails to help children who are at risk of being harmed. In a report released in late 2016, auditors also described a restrictive child protection law that sets a high bar for determining neglect, a seriously overloaded DCYF workforce and a lack of services available to families.

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The division has appointed new leadership and worked to revise policies, improve staff training, recruitment and retention and address its large backlog of complaints.

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This story has been corrected to show the mother’s name is Kaitlin, not Katlin.

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